To save London’s cabs, a lawmaker suggests getting rid of the world’s hardest driving test

Can you pass the test?
Can you pass the test?
Image: ReutersS/Suzanne Plunkett
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It’s not easy being a London taxi driver; to drive a black cab, you have to commit 100,000 landmarks and 25,000 streets to memory. Only 27% of people pass the notoriously difficult 164-year-old test of geography, known as The Knowledge. Quartz recently profiled this endeavour:

The Knowledge has only gotten harder as London grows larger and more congested. Drivers are expected to memorize every street within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross; there’s no other driving test like it in the world. While it takes a private hire vehicle driver 12 weeks to pass the topographical test, London taxi drivers end up studying for three to four years for an all-London license; it can cost over £1,000 ($1,521) to become certified.

And now there’s talk of getting rid of The Knowledge.

In a new report, entitled “’Saving an Icon: Rescuing London’s Black Cabs from Extinction” (pdf), Greater London Authority member Richard Tracey, a Conservative, calls for “fundamental changes” to save the London’s taxi industry from “extinction.”

The report notes the dangers new technology and taxi-hailing apps like Uber pose to the regulated taxi industries in London and across the globe. While London taxi driver drivers spend years learning to pass the test, Uber drivers can just use the GPS navigation on their phone.

Tracey suggests the cost and sheer difficulty of the test is a huge barrier to becoming a London taxi driver. This barrier is best reflected by the age of black cab drivers—around 40% of drivers are aged 55 or over. Only 5% are under the age of 35. While the demand for taxis has surged, the number of black cabs has remained stable at 22,000. But the number of private-hire vehicle drivers has nearly doubled—from 32,000 in 2005 to over 60,000 today.

Tracey makes eight recommendations to help save the London’s taxi industry, including cutting the test down by two-thirds. None of which will please black cab drivers. “I’m stunned and shocked that anybody would suggest doing anything that altered or lowered the standard of taxi driving,” Steve McNamara, the general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, told the BBC.